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A “United” Kingdom? 

Being a fiercely proud Welsh girl studying in England, my Welsh cultural identity has been an integral part of my personality. From being told that “it’s basically West England isn’t it?” and another Welsh friend being asked “did you need a passport to get here”, defending my part of the world has been one of the more frustrating aspects of university life. Thanks to devolution, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have greater powers in deciding their policies. But to what extent has devolution been a success? 

Ever since Welsh devolution in 1999, and reforms in 2011 and 2017 confirming its status as a law-making body, the Senedd has controlled matters including policing, education and health. Championing diverging or independent policies to those of England and the rest of the UK, Wales’s policies on free prescriptions for all, an alternate student loan system and recent controversial speed limits in certain areas, there is no doubt that Wales has set itself apart as a different country to England. With different needs and wants, and a different culture and language, Wales’s policies have no doubt demonstrated a flexing of (deserved) legislative muscles. Despite all this, Welsh devolution is the weakest compared to its Northern Irish and Scottish counterparts, as it lacks control over the justice system and holds little monetary power due to not having a central bank.  

However, not everyone approves of devolution, notably the Welsh Conservatives (who might I add, have never once held a majority in Wales). Even in the Senedd elections of 2021, a party named ‘Abolish the Welsh Assembly’ ran (even though it lost both of its seats – pity 😉). Despite this, as demonstrated by Wales Onlinea poll by Beaufort Research concluded that 40% of Welsh people supported either more powers for the Senedd, or complete independence. 

The situation of independence is a topical one, as although the think tank and pressure group, YesCymru, has reported increases in popularity in recent years, these figures have dropped from what they were during the pandemic. At its peak, support for independence was around 32% according to YouGov. Plaid Cymru also openly supports independence. 

Crucially, due to the Supreme Court’s decision to not allow a second referendum in Scotland, and recent controversy surrounding the SNP, support for independence has decreased there. As arguably many Welsh people view Scotland as a sort of guinea pig for independence, there is no doubt that this has affected the Welsh case. 

Nonetheless, as demonstrated by Wales Online, an increase in powers for Wales is generally supported (at least from a Welsh standpoint), with First Minister Mark Drakeford stating that an increase in powers for the Senedd would lead to greater representation of the Welsh population. Opinions across the Bristol channel differ, however, with former Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling devolution a “mistake”. Possibly Johnson should perhaps have focused on mistakes of his own as opposed to disputing countries merely running themselves …

It is without a doubt that within the UK’s union, each country holds distinct national and cultural properties. It is almost unfathomable that the country next door would decide the fate of its neighbour in another part of the world, so why was this the norm for most of the UK’s history? Devolution, at least in my and 65% of the Welsh electorate’s opinion, has granted crucial legislative powers which greater represent the needs and wants of each respective country. 

Finally, and most importantly, the Welsh language has been and still is a crucial aspect of Welsh culture and a definite driver for devolution. As a fluent speaker, I am grateful every day for my language. With the language having been banned several times (thank you Henry VIII, you really did well with this one babes :/ ) and punishments for 19th and 20th-century school children who spoke Welsh (yes, really!), this is a success story in terms of so-called ‘minority’ languages. With an estimated 800,000 speakers according to Gov.uk, devolution has crucially protected the Welsh language and raised it to an unimaginable status considering its former dwindling numbers. The Welsh Language Measure of 2011 was the first act for Wales and was created in Wales to give the language official status and appoint a commissioner to enforce standards to protect the language. Despite the shortcomings of this measure, there is no doubt about its status as an important ‘milestone’ in the history of the language (Ymateb Comisiynydd y Gymraeg, 2022).

Despite my perhaps biased view (sorry! I did try I promise), it is evident that overall devolution has received an overwhelmingly positive response. An increase in national powers and further devolution would no doubt benefit each respective country. However, it does raise one particular question: the United Kingdom may exist as we currently know it, but would further devolution lead it to breaking point? 

The answer remains to be seen, however, I for one am curious to see… 

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